In an interview with the TheTruthMustBeTold.com, William M. Paparian, former Mayor of Pasadena and a criminal defense attorney, provides more details with regard to his sobering statements on the activities of the Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee (PAGMC) and its board members. In his press release published on September 30, 2014, he announced his resignation as the chairman of the board of directors of the PAGMC.
On October 3, 2014, Bernard Melekian, former Chief of Police of the City of Pasadena, interim chair of the PAGMC, sent me an email, stating that the allegations made in Paparian’s press release were under a ‘thorough internal review.’ He expected it to be ready within the following two weeks. I agreed to wait if he provided me with a number of documents pertaining to the PAGMC’s tax-exempt status, which must be available for public inspection and copying upon request pursuant to Exempt Organization Public Disclosure and Availability Requirements. The failure to comply with these requirements was instrumental in my decision to conduct my own independent investigation and publish the results. This step upset Melekian.
“When I asked you to give me a couple of weeks to get my bearings, you assured me that you would do so. Apparently you lost track of time because you then sent out a press release parroting the unfounded allegations of the previous chair,” he wrote on October 14, 2014, following the publication of my press release three days earlier. Melekian is probably oblivious of his failure to satisfy my legitimate request for the paperwork. Two weeks have already passed, but I am yet to receive the results of the ‘thorough internal review.’ I don’t have to point a finger to show the obvious – who of us has lost track of time. Once again I am equipped with enough evidence to do without the findings of the board’s ‘internal review.’ I’d rather parrot the facts instead.
Registering with California Attorney General
One of the disturbing issues Paparian pointed out in his press release was the fact that the PAGMC was ‘unintentionally’ receiving donations illegally for over a year and a half. He linked this issue to the treasurer’s ‘failure to follow California law regarding legal filings.’
According to California Government Code Section 12585, a non-profit organization must register with the Attorney General in the Registry of Charitable Trusts within 30 days of receiving its first donation. Having received its first donation on February 26, 2013, the PAGMC took 562 days to comply with this law. In the meantime, the non-profit had been unintentionally soliciting and receiving donations illegally. This might have gone on for a longer while, had Paparian not contacted John Sadd, the independent CPA of the committee, on August 18, 2014, and requested a copy of the PAGMC’s tax return. A few days later Sadd sent him a copy.
“I’m not an accountant, but this doesn’t look right to me. Can you tell me what’s going on?” Paparian asked Sadd regarding his discovery that David George Gevorkyan, the board’s treasurer and chief financial officer, had used a wrong EIN and a wrong reporting period on the PAGMC’s tax return. Furthermore, Gevorkyan had used his home address as that of the organization. This discussion eventually led to the issue of the PAGMC’s legal status. And Sadd told Paparian that they had to file with the Registry of Charitable Trusts of the Attorney General and the Franchise Tax Board. This took Paparian by surprise, as Gevorkyan had, over a year before, led the board to believe he had taken care of the matter.
In an email sent to all the board members on May 19, 2013, Gevorkyan, announced to the board that all the paperwork for registering the non-profit was ‘taken care of’ and ‘ready to go.’ He wrote the following:
Dear PAGMC Board,
The paperwork for the nonprofit are complete and need to be reviewed by John Sadd. Upon his return from Japan (Monday) we will be meeting to finalize the paperwork. The documents for the Attorney General’s office is taken care of, and the Franchise Tax Board’s, Secretary of State, and IRS documents are ready to go. Please call or email me if you have any questions.
On August 28, 2014, a day after his discovery of the missing filings, Paparian set out to amend the grave oversight. He prepared and filed the necessary paperwork to register the PAGMC with the Registry of Charitable Trusts of the Attorney General’s Office, the Franchise Tax Board of California and filed two years of annual reports. The application was approved on September 11, 2014.
The problem was discovered after over $100 thousand were raised and grants from the California Endowment had been received. And this oversight, later, led to a number of violations of the Penal Code Section 320.5. Charitable raffles.
Dinner & Cigars
On June 19, 2014, the PAGMC organized an event called Dinner & Cigars at Phoenicia Restaurant in Glendale, CA. The entry fee was $80 per person, which included dinner and three premium cigars. And a raffle was conducted during the fundraising event. According to Part VIII, Line 4d of the IRS 1023 form, “in all cases and events, all fundraising activities are and will continue to be performed by the PAGMC for the PAGMC.”
According to Penal Code Section 320.5. (c), an eligible non-profit organization is required to have been ‘qualified to conduct business in California for at least one year prior to conducting a raffle.’ In addition to that, the PAGMC had to register with the Department of Justice to conduct the raffle and annually file a financial report about how much money was raised. According to the Attorney General’s website, Gevorkyan never did any of it.
Judging by Gevorkyan’s financial report dated October 1, 2014, he had held on to unaccounted-for cash proceeds from the raffle for six weeks before finally depositing $2,076, of which $1,426 was in cash as documented by a deposit slip dated August 5, 2014.
PAGMC Bank Activities
The PAGMC has two accounts for depositing funds: the primary account, which is managed by the Community Foundation of the Verdugos (CVF) and the PAGMC’s corporate checking account. Currently, there is a discrepancy between the balances of these accounts, which implies misappropriations.
According to Part VIII: Line 4E of the IRS Form 1023 (Separate Accounts for Contributors), the PAGMC’s corporate checking account is used for collecting donations and transferring them to the primary account, which is intended to pool donor contributions ‘for the soft and hard cost of building and, later, maintaining the memorial.’ The other function of the corporate checking account is to pay for expenses, such as print materials, office supplies, event rental equipment, etc.
Based on the primary account, a total of $106,751 was raised for the project, as of October 1, 2014. However, not all the moneys were transferred from the corporate checking account to the primary account. Since the establishment of the PAGMC’s corporate checking account, the total amount of contributions in cash and checks made payable to the PAGMC amounted to $35,706 as of October 1, 2014. A total of $18,650 was transferred from this account to the primary account managed by the CVF, as of October 1, 2014, leaving a balance of $17,056. Total bank service charges for the corporate checking account amounted to $365, and the current balance in the same period was $323.30. What has happened to $16,367.70?
According to the PAGMC’s bank account activity, as of October 1, 2014, there has been only one legitimate expenditure that is in line with the Part VIII: Line 4E of the IRS Form 1023. It was a check for $399 paid to the City of Pasadena to cover the cost of the building permit of the memorial, on August 22, 2014. Given the information presently at hand, it is difficult to account for the remaining $15,968 in its entirety, however, it is certain that some of it was spent to cover expenses other than ‘the soft and hard costs of building and, later, maintaining the memorial,’ as stipulated in the Part VIII: Line 4E of the IRS Form 1023.
For instance, it is a fact that $236.91 was paid to Anthony Portantino, a PAGMC board member and a political candidate running for California State Senate in 2016, as a reimbursement for candles. Portantino had purchased them for the Armenian Genocide Memorial Ground Blessing event, which he organized and coordinated on April 27, 2014. The check was issued by Gevorkyan, Portantino’s campaign organizer, and cashed on August 25, 2014. Strangely, it was dated April 25, 2014. Payments like this are in violation of the final segment of the Part VIII: Line 4E of the IRS Form 1023:
All solicitations indicate that the funds will be placed directly in the “Armenian Genocide Memorial Fund” with the Community Foundation of the Verdugos. In the event the PAGMC shall need to raise funds for a specific activity (such as a mailer, event rentals, equipment, etcetera), donors will be directly solicited specifically for those funds.
According to Paparian, no donors have ever been directly solicited specifically to contribute funds to cover the PAGMC’s organizational expenses.
Gevorkyan’s Background Misrepresentation Revisited
In its first report on the PAGMC, TheTruthMustBeTold.com was able to conduct an independent investigation which confirmed Paparian’s allegations that David Gevorkyan had, in fact, submitted fraudulent background information about himself to the PAGMC’s board. Paparian gave TheTruthMustBeTold.com more details on how he learned about the misrepresentations in the first place.
In March 2014, Shoghig Yepremian, a member of the PAGMC board, chairperson of the Pasadena Chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA-Pasadena) and president of Yepremian Consulting, Inc., disclosed to William Paparian and his wife, Sona Paparian, PAGMC’s former webmaster and social media coordinator, that there were inaccuracies in Gevorkyan’s biography. She also said that due to these misrepresentations Gevorkyan was removed from his position as the Treasurer of the ANCA-Pasadena. “No wonder this guy never worked anywhere. No one would hire him to begin with,” she wrote to Paparian in an email on March 4, 2014.
In another email sent to William Paparian, on April 3, 2014, Yepremian writes the following about David Gevorkyan:
“He has exceptional talent of manipulating people. I have not given him any responsibility on my Board. This is one way of cutting his involvement in any Pasadena activities. I don’t like when people use organizations for self benefit. I will slowly push him away from my board. It might take some time.”
Troubled by Yepremian’s allegations, Paparian had inquiries made, which confirmed the fact of material misrepresentations in Gevorkyan’s background. The findings were corroborated by a background investigation conducted by the City of Glendale. Under California Public Records Act Cal. Govt. Code§§ 6250 et seq., I requested from the City of Glendale a copy of the background report in question and all of Gevorkyan’s applications for paid and unpaid positions. Six days later, I was granted access only to the applications.
In his application for appointment to the Audit Committee of the City of Glendale, under qualifications/experience, Gevorkyan wrote and signed under the following statement: “I am a certified treasurer.” As proven in Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee in Crisis, the previous report published by TheTruthMustBeTold.com, this statement is false. Nevertheless, Gevorkyan has been serving as an audit commissioner for the City of Glendale since June 11, 2013.
As the sole incorporator of the PAGMC, Paparian was responsible for naming the original members of the board. Because Gevorkyan had been appointed to the PAGMC’s board as a representative of the local chapter of the ARF, Paparian requested to meet with its leaders and discuss Gevorkyan’s fraudulent background. “They were presented with everything that had been discovered, but nothing was ever done,” he said.
On August 6, 2014, Sona Paparian removed Gevorkyan’s bio from www.pasagmc.com, then the official website of the PAGMC, and notified the entire board about it by email. However, the removal of Gevorkyan’s fraudulent bio from the website cost Sona Paparian her own removal from the activities of the board.
At the board meeting, on August 9, 2014, Bernard Melekian announced that Sona Paparian had ‘crossed the line.’ William Paparian remembers him saying: “We can’t have a volunteer to say things like this about a board member with uncorroborated allegations.” Melekian had ignored the fact that the allegations had been corroborated by the City of Glendale and urged to sever the board’s ties with Sona Paparian.
Here is an excerpt from the minutes of the August 9 meeting:
Barney MOTION [Bernard Melekian – AM]: Effective September 2, 2014, the Board will terminate our arrangements with the current volunteer, Sona Paparian, as it relates to her services with all the PASAGMC social media (Webpage and FaceBook, etc). The Board will seek the services of a professional web manager with a focus of hiring such a person. Anthony 2nd No objections
Another excerpt from the minutes reveals how Shoghig Yepremian backed down from all of her earlier assertions, when David Gevorkyan confronted her, demanding an explanation:
David asked for this portion of the board meeting to be on record:
(paraphrased) – Bill accused David that he has a false professional background and when the ANCA Pasadena Chapter found out, they removed him from his position as treasurer. Bill said that another PASAGMC Board member found out about this and informed Bill and Sona. David asked Bill to identify the PASAGMC Board who gave him that information and he said it was Shoghig. David asked Shoghig if it was true that the ANCA Pasadena Chapter had removed him as Treasurer because of his incompetency. Shoghig said that the ANCA did not remove David as Treasurer, but rather that it was because of a routine annual board rotation. Shoghig said that she did not make such statement to Bill or Sona and does not have information on David’s background. Shoghig told the Board that ANCA matters should not be discussed at this Board.
Non-Profit vs Political Campaigning
In preparation of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Ground Blessing event, which took place on April 27, 2014, Portantino suggested that he mail the invitations and Paparian handle the RSVPs. Having sent invitations to public officials living as far away as Glendale, Portantino had left out Jacque Robinson, Vice Mayor of the City of Pasadena. And although a number of officials from Burbank were also invited, Assembly Member Mike Gatto, received no invitations. Both happen to be Portantino’s opponents in the race for California State Senate.
Despite having received no official invitation, Vice Mayor Jacque Robinson was present thanks to the PAGMC’s Facebook event announcement. And though Mike Gatto was absent, his field representative, Mary Manoukian, attended the event. Paparian included their names in the VIP list and gave it to Portantino a couple of days prior to the event to make sure they were introduced by Dickran Tevrizian, retired Federal Judge for the Central District of California, who was going to be the Master of Ceremonies. However, at the ground blessing event, strangely, their names were not announced, and Paparian had to hand their business cards to Judge Tevrizian who then acknowledged them.
The IRS regulations about political campaign intervention in the activities of a non-profit organization appear a bit too strict for Anthony Portantino’s ambitious bid to become a California Senator. But it could be a costly decision for him to leave the board, since it might harm his prospects of soliciting support from Armenian-American voters. For instance, David Gevorkyan, his campaign organizer, would no longer be able to embellish Portantino’s image by making allusions to his role in building the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Pasadena, CA, as he did in his Facebook post promoting his Welcome Reception, which was held at Rennaissance Banquet Hall, in Glendale, CA, on June 26, 2014:
A dear friend of our community, who represented us in Sacramento in the State Assembly, who is working on building a Genocide Memorial, who is a visiting professor at USC, who is a State Commissioner, who happens to be the former Mayor of La Canada/Flintridge, and is definitely a down-to-earth friend and representative for us all, is running for State Senate. I want us all to get together and support Anthony Portantino on June 26th, at Rennaissance Banquet Hall.
Another incident that cast a shadow over the ground blessing event was Judge Tevrizian’s unexpected introduction of James Hellmold, Assistant Sheriff of Los Angeles County, as a candidate for the Los Angeles County Sheriff. Moreover, Hellmold was invited to the stage to give a speech. It is uncertain whether it was Tevrizian’s personal decision or he was simply reading from a script, but, nevertheless, it was a clear violation of the IRS terms for 501(c)(3) organizations. Although Judge Tevrizian is not a member of the board, he certainly represented it in his capacity as the Master of Ceremonies, on that day.
If a candidate is invited to speak at an organization event in his or her capacity as a political candidate, the organization must take steps to ensure that:
a. It provides an equal opportunity to participate to all political candidates seeking the same office;
b. It does not indicate any support for or opposition to any candidate (including candidate introductions and in communications concerning any candidate’s attendance); and
c. No political fundraising occurs.
Bob Olmstead, another candidate for the same position, Los Angeles County Sheriff, was also present at the ground blessing event. But none of the PAGMC’s board members tried to remedy this error. As a result, not only did Olmstead not get equal time, he got no time. He was not acknowledged in any way.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The IRS regulations about political campaign intervention in the activities of a non-profit organization appear a bit too strict for Anthony Portantino’s ongoing political activities. As urged in the first report, Anthony Portantino and his campaign organizer, David Gevorkyan, must leave the PAGMC’s board. In light of the findings in this report, whoever has engaged, supported or covered up any of the above-mentioned illegal activities must be immediately removed from the PAGMC’s board.
Initially scheduled to start near the end of September of 2014, the construction of the memorial hasn’t commenced yet. According to Zareh Astourian, CEO of TTG, who is volunteering his time to oversee the engineering side of the construction, the latter should start no later than the beginning of November for it to be completed by April 24, 2015. However, the ongoing crisis at the PAGMC has become a roadblock for the project. The sooner the current board members address the PAGMC’s pressing issues, the sooner will they help pave the way for the completion of the memorial by the 100th anniversary of the Genocide.
Ara K. Manoogian is a human rights activist; a Fellow of the Washington-based Policy Forum Armenia (PFA); creator of www.thetruthmustbetold.com; author of the white paper “To Donate Or Not to Donate”, an in-depth study on the activities of the “Hayastan” All-Armenian Fund